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In-Home Health Care: Can Seniors Have Eating Disorders?

Sep 30, 2017 by Comfort Keepers of Riverside and Corona

When we think about eating disorders, we picture the stereotypical anorexic teenage girl who is self conscious of her body and wants to fit in at school. But eating disorders are so much more than that.

They can affect anyone of any age, any gender, and any identity at all. Yes, men can have eating disorders. And so can your grandmother.

Though it is known that your sense of taste and your appetite can decrease with age, what is not known is that eating disorders may instead be to blame. There can be many reasons why a senior might develop an eating disorder. Here are the facts and how to approach the situation:

Why does it happen?

It turns out that over 13% of women over the age of 50 have some sort of eating disorder. Almost three quarters of them said they were doing it for weight loss purposes, and 62% of them also felt that their body shape and weight was negatively affecting their lives.

A common reason why someone of any age develops an eating disorder is to feel in charge of something. For seniors, this is an especially common mindset amongst spousal caregivers, or even the person being cared for. Regaining that sense of control and independence is seemingly possible through how you treat your own body – eating disorders give their victims a sense of empowerment.

However, don’t assume it’s an eating disorder.

If a senior isn't eating or is losing weight, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is an eating disorder. There are other factors that may be to blame, such as:

  • Taste buds declining
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to eat solid foods
  • Lack of access to food

These are serious issues in themselves, but they’re all treated differently. That’s why it’s important to find the root of the problem. At the same time, don’t rule out the possibility of it being an eating disorder. Approach the situation carefully to get a complete understanding of what’s going on – don’t go into it with any preconceived notions. Once you know what’s going on, take the appropriate steps from there.

Be kind and cautious.

The best way to find out what is actually going on with someone is to show compassion and patience. Once some trust is established, you might find out that John is making himself vomit after his large meals (bulimia nervosa), or Martha isn’t eating because she doesn’t have a way to buy groceries and cook for herself.

Treatment is available and is effective.

If you have determined the cause of the weight loss or lack of nutrition, you can help educate the senior on habits to change or the next steps to take. If, for example, the issue is that the person can’t taste their food anymore, trying out different spice combinations may help make eating more enjoyable for them again. If the problem is access to groceries or inability to cook, there are programs that can deliver ready-made meals to seniors.

If it is an eating disorder, it is important to go to the doctor and get a referral to a mental health professional. Getting to the root of why the eating disorder was developed is the first and most effective step in helping treat it.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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